Seneca Myths and Folk Tales

Seneca Myths and Folk Tales

Seneca Myths and Folk Tales

Seneca Myths and Folk Tales


"On the Cattaraugus reservation, it was part of a child's initial training to learn why the bear lost its tail, why the chipmunk has a striped back, and why meteors flash in the sky," writes Arthur C. Parker at the beginning of Seneca Myths and Folk Tales. His blood ties to the Senecas and early familiarity with their culture led to a distinguished career as an archaeologist and to the publication in 1923 of this pioneeering work. Parker recreates the milieu in which the Seneca legends and folktales were told and discusses their basic themes and components before going on to relate more than seventy of them that he heard as a boy. Here is the magical Senecan world populated by unseen good and evil spirits, ghosts, and beings capable of transformation. Included are creation myths; folktales involving contests between mortal youths and assorted powers; tales of love and marriage; and stories about cannibals, talking animals, pygmies, giants, monsters, vampires, and witches.


By William N. Fenton

Some fifty years ago during a visit to Rochester, Arthur Parker, then the eminent director of the Rochester Museum of Science, presented me with a copy of his scarce Seneca Myths and Folk Tales (1923) to assist me in my research among his people. The volume carries the marginalia entered during my field interviews with native informants; it has been read and reread and is badly worn and coming apart at the binding. It is high time that this treasure was reprinted and made available in a paperback edition to scholars, the native Iroquois, and the general reader. I am glad to examine it once more and share my knowledge of the author and of Iroquoian folklore.

Arthur Caswell Parker (1881-1955) was a man of two worlds and two cultures. Genetically of Seneca sires through his father and father's father, both of whom had married New England missionaries and teachers of Anglo-Saxon descent, he was not more than one-quarter Seneca by "blood." Yet early and late in life he identified readily with Iroquoian culture and values, even while he rose through the ranks of American society by sheer achievement as ethnologist, folklorist, archaeologist, and museologist (a term he invented). In appearance and in photographs, Parker looked as much Indian as his Seneca contemporaries, although well-tailored, and his English speech retained the resonance of Iroquoian languages. But, with the rule of matrilineal descent, politically he was an "outsider" and not an enrolled Seneca.

The men who carried the English name of Parker in the third ascending generation--principally Nicholson, who was . . .

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